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January 13, 2012

In Memoriam: Reginald Hill

It’s with real sadness that I learned this afternoon of the death of Reginald Hill, author of the splendid “Dalziel and Pascoe” series about a pair of magnificently mismatched Yorkshire cops, of some of my all-time favorite espionage titles (Who Guards a Prince was on the very first list of titles published by Felony & Mayhem), and of an astonishing 47 novels overall, plus several short-story collections.

I met Reg Hill only once, and remember him as a very tall, very sloshed, and very charming man, with a wickedly glinting eye. There was something of the roguish Southern gentleman about him, though he was deeply English. Much more important than that brief meeting, though, was my relationship with his books, which has been both long and heartfelt. In a genre that is all too often correctly criticized for specializing in cardboard characters, Hill created some of the most nuanced and individual (and funniest) characters ever to bestride a page, Fat Andy Dalziel being, of course, first among them. Would I want Andy in my life? Probably not. He’d hurt my feelings, he’d insult my friends, he’d embarrass me in public. But he’d have my back so solidly that it would be like leaning against a stone wall, and that’s worth a lot. And once in a while he would make me absolutely bark with laughter. And I can’t think of many writers, certainly not many mystery writers, who have created a character of such glorious and realistic complexity.

Hill was best known, of course, for the “Dalziel and Pascoe” series. (For those readers who are – foolishly! – unfamiliar with the books, the young-ish Peter Pascoe, fresh out of university when we first met him, and later married to a somewhat strident feminist, is deputy to Andy Dalziel, an older and decidedly old-school policeman who discovers – to his astonishment and over the course of many books – that as much as he might have to teach Pascoe, he also has something to learn. Fans of P.D. James, of the “Inspector Morse” series should JUMP on these books. Start with An Advancement of Learning.)

My heart most truly belongs, however, to Hill’s espionage, in part because he had an unusually strong gift for creating believable female characters. The heroine of A Spy’s Wife, for example, with her tart tongue and her working-class pragmatism, is a great treat (and I’m also a huge fan of the book’s detective). And she has a real “character arc” over the course of the novel, which is to say that she changes in response to the things that happen to her – just as real people do, but something that is very unusual in mystery fiction. I recommend that title (and the gorgeously well plotted Who Guards a Prince) very highly.

For more on Mr. Hill and his work please see this article, and for a tribute from one of England’s finest crime writers see this one, both in the Guardian (UK).

Reginald Hill was an enormous talent, and a kind and generous man. He will be greatly missed.


Maggie Topkis



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6 Responses to “In Memoriam: Reginald Hill”

  1. Nan January 15, 2012 at 12:08 pm #

    I hadn’t heard. So very sad. I am slowly making my way through the books, having finished the 5th.

  2. Sarawind January 15, 2012 at 12:54 pm #

    Have read all his books with great pleasure. His characters are so…real. Very sorry to hear of Mr. Hill’s passing.

  3. Spottea January 15, 2012 at 2:07 pm #

    I’m going to miss him so much. It’s hard to think of a writer that I enjoy reading more. I keep trying to find new authors to read, but find myself always going back to Dalziel and Pascoe, as much for the humour, as for the plot!

  4. Redosa17 January 15, 2012 at 3:31 pm #

    Equally sorry to hear of Hill’s death, no-one quite like him. As well as being hugely enjoyable reads his books give a very realistic portrait of the changes in English society over several decades. He will be greatly missed.Margaret McDermott,Nottingham,England.

  5. Cindie White-Weiss January 15, 2012 at 8:27 pm #

    I wish that I had somehow contacted him to tell him how very much I enjoyed his books. I’ve read every single one. 
    What a loss. 

  6. Anonymous January 18, 2012 at 12:18 pm #

    a wonderful series

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